Friday, February 19, 2016

Open Government: Failure

The Open Government partnership's Independent Reporting Mechanism report on New Zealand is out. And as expected, it exposes the failure of the government's participation in the OGP:

One year into implementation, the New Zealand IRM report finds that the government’s action plan largely consists of programmes that were already underway, and were not primarily designed to improve open government practice. While OGP encourages governments to develop commitments around already existing programmes, under OGP rules the programmes are supposed to stretch practice and set more ambitious targets. The report found little evidence that this had happened.

A director of Transparency International New Zealand told the IRM researcher IRM that New Zealand’s action plan contains “low-hanging fruit – in fact it has already fallen off the tree”. By contrast, the action plan does not address any of the problems with official information laws currently causing controversy: the practice of charging for official information requests, the operational problems highlighted by the Ombudsman’s office, or last year’s High Court ruling that the government’s response to requests for information about the Trans Pacific Partnership was unlawful.

Furthermore, OGP requires that action plans be jointly created by government and civil society. However, the report also found that the public consultation leading up to the action plan was very limited, and that most of the feedback received was ignored. Many people interviewed for the report described it as a “box-ticking” exercise.

The full report is here. In addition to criticising the government's mockery of a consultation process, it also assesses the government's OGP commitments - described by SSC as "extremely ambitious" - as having only minor impact and limited implementation (with some on schedule and some behind). And in response to this lack of ambition, it suggests some ideas for our next action plan (which we're meant to be developing now and implementing from July), based on the consultation feedback the government ignored. The top five are:
  • Reform of the official freedom of information laws;
  • Creation of public consultation guidelines for new bills, regulations and policies;
  • Regular, standardized, technically independent “state of the nation” reporting on social policy and the environment;
  • A clear cross-government policy to allow public servants and those receiving public funding to speak out on significant public issues without facing any form of retaliation
  • Political party funding reform to increase transparency around donations and Parliamentary revenues.
It will be interesting to see how the government responds to this international criticism: whether they accept that they have failed and commit to doing a better job this time, or ignore it and continue merely going through the motions without any real commitment to open government. Sadly, based on their past practice, I predict the latter.